Jed Norris is the Early Education Program Coordinator at Shelburne Farms. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Child Development from Colby-Sawyer College and his Master’s degree in Early Childhood Special Education from the University of Vermont. He has been in the field of early education for close to 15 years including eight years as a classroom teacher at College Street Children’s Center and the UVM Campus Children’s School, three years as a program director at the Burlington Children’s Space, and two years in his current role. Jed feels really fortunate to be able to teach in Vermont where we have so much to learn from the environment and communities of our state, a strong connection to farming and where our food comes from, and a culture of stewardship for our place.
What Quality Child Care Looks Like to Me
New or expectant parents in Vermont struggling to find affordable, high-quality child care often wonder, what does quality child care look like? My experience as a child care provider has taught me some things that families can look for when they tour child care programs. The appearance and cleanliness are certainly key traits to notice. The physical environment can help support children in many developmentally creative ways and, in fact, I think we only enhance learning and development when we consider how a space affects the work being done. But it’s not always a look—I listen more than I look when I enter an early learning and child care program.
The Sound of Support
A quality child care setting has a sound of support and affection in the air. Children are encouraged to be themselves and are seen as valued members of the community. They have their voices heard, their interests acted upon and are challenged in a way that stretches interests and development. For example, I once worked with a group of older toddlers with a shared love of blocks but with a mix of those who loved to build and those who loved to knock things down. To support both interests, we constructed a building out of blocks and then stood back and swung a rope with different objects attached to it into the blocks to see which object created the destruction we desired. We talked about and guessed what material would work best for the outcome we were hoping for.
These young years bring on so many cognitive, emotional and physical changes that accidents, meltdowns and mishaps are inevitable. An empathetic response to these growing pains is important. I have always been amazed to see the growth a child experiences in one year. Within a few months of entering a program, many infants move from observing the sounds, sights and textures of the room while on their backs to traveling on their own through rolling, crawling or scooting, and then on to the challenges of standing. In the group setting, there are plenty of opportunities for the child's empathy to be honed through the challenges and gratification of sharing an object. In a quality program, providers recognize skills as they emerge, even when new development can cause frustration and conflict. Listen for teachers’ voices describing what children are doing and encouraging their efforts.
Parents and families may also take note of how the program welcomes and involves all types of families. The changes happening during the child’s early years also are impacting the family, so good communication between teachers and families can help navigate any obstacles. How are families greeted in the morning? A simple “how was your night or weekend?” invites families to share their experience while providing a complete picture of the child’s needs for that day. Families and teachers will need to work together to understand sleep and food schedules, which can be a bit like riding a roller coaster. It is almost always better to take a team approach when trying to navigate the child’s ever-changing need for independence and support.
Most importantly, families should recognize that quality child care programs come in many different forms. For example, as a male in the early childhood world, where the majority of care providers are women, I don’t necessarily look (or sound) like what people might expect in an early education setting, especially on the infant/toddler side of the programs. But I believe that children thrive in environments with multiple examples of roles and personalities coming together to provide care and support, and I am proud to be one such example of a provider comfortable tracking animals in the snow, changing diapers, building with giant blocks, swaddling a fussy infant and having conversations about how night feedings are going.
When families walk into a quality child care setting, they should listen. They will hear providers who support their children, who want to learn from each family about who their child is and is becoming, who are engineers of classroom set-ups and organizers of successful groups, and who can make sense of children’s everyday actions. They will hear the voices of empathetic, patient, involved, encouraging, playful, kind teachers ready to become an extension of each family and to give each child a strong start in life.
In addition to these informal tips, there are several good resources available in Vermont to help gauge the quality of a child care program. I encourage anyone who doesn’t know about these resources to learn more: